Frozen custard is the most delicious dessert you’ve never made at home—and I am here to change that, stat. I was introduced to this nectar of the gods at Shake Shack almost two decades ago and I immediately fell in love with its dense, creamy, soft-serve texture. Kind of like ice cream, kind of like gelato, but not. Cut to several years later, when I was visiting family in Milwaukee and went to Kopp’s, a fast food chain specializing in frozen custard in a variety of ever-changing flavors. Yes, I did order a large cup and yes, I went back the next day.
But here’s the thing: Despite being a frozen custard lover for years, I’d never made it from scratch until now. And to say I’m wowed by the results is an understatement. Not only is frozen custard easy to make, but its melt in-your-mouth creaminess gives this simple sweet a decadent, even fancy vibe that is as surprising as it is satisfying.
You may be wondering how frozen custard differs from ice cream: First, although folks do make ice cream calling for egg yolks, myself included, ice cream generally gets its fat and richness from dairy (Philadelphia-style is defined by its lack of eggs), while frozen custard is all about the yolks. Moreover, ice cream is airier and fluffier than frozen custard, due to the different churning machines. Frozen custard is made in a continuous freezer that churns—you guessed it—continuously, at a warmer temp, without incorporating a ton of air. In comparison, an ice cream machine purposefully aerates, yielding a lighter texture. Then the ice cream heads to the freezer to firm up even more before serving. (As for gelato, it differs from frozen custard in that it typically skips yolks and has less milk fat. But it’s similar in that it’s more dense than ice cream.)
To make the homemade frozen custard of my dreams, I hacked my go-to ice cream recipe: I added a few more yolks (my custard calls for a whopping eight, so yes, you likely have an angel food cake in your future). I also dialed back the granulated sugar and added a few tablespoons of light corn syrup. I learned the corn syrup trick from Serious Eats: Straight-up sugar can interfere with the all-important dairy flavor of custard, but corn syrup does not; corn syrup also imparts a subtle, fudgy chew. Finally, in order to achieve that continuous freezer texture with an everyday ice cream maker, my frozen custard is best eaten directly after churning, when it is soft, a little melty, and the flavor of the dairy and vanilla are primed to really pop.
To flavor your custard, try substituting a different extract instead of the vanilla, to taste. Or add 1/2 cup of chopped chocolate during the last 5 minutes of churning. For chocolate custard, add about 1/3 cup of cocoa powder (or to taste) to the milk mixture before warming it. —Jessie Sheehan